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What specific action fulfills the commandment to write a sefer torah?

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At my synagogue we're currently writing a sefer torah in honor of our retiring rabbi. I know that the 613th mitzvah is to write a sefer torah, and have been taught that participating in the writing of one fulfills the obligation -- we don't each have to write our own complete scroll.

I understand that the conventional way to do this is to make a financial donation and then sit with the sofer (scribe) and touch the sofer's hand (or arm) while a letter is written. In the activities at my synagogue I've seen the result referred to as "your letter". (For example, the honoree got the beit in B'reisheet as "his" letter.) Or sometimes it's words, verses, chapters, or parshiyot, depending on the size of the donation.

What part of this actually effects "writing a sefer torah"? If someone makes a donation but doesn't sit with the sofer, has that person fulfilled the obligation? If the person declares the intent to participate but doesn't make a donation, is that enough? (For example, maybe writing a sefer torah is a community activity and all members of the community have a share without funding it.)

If one fulfills the obligation only by physically assisting with the writing, I have a followup question: what happens if the sofer makes a mistake? I saw a case with a spelling error, which will require the sofer to scrape off and rewrite text that people participated in.

Why should this post be closed?

2 comments

I do not think that the one giving the donation has to physically "help" the sofer write. This article has some interesting halachos about writing a sefer torah. Dani 7 days ago

I've been to a few Sefer Torah dedications - and sometimes been honored with a letter (even without a donation!) But the letters written then are just the last few Pesukim (sentences). Almost the entire Torah is written by the Sofer alone. People "buying" a letter or word or Pasuk or Perek or Parsha send their donation but don't have any contact (virtual or physical) with the Sofer when he is writing that section. manassehkatz 7 days ago

1 answer

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There are two primary views mentioned in rishonim for how to accomplish this Mitzvah:

  • Rambam Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:1 - Each man must write a sefer torah for himself, or commission another to write it for him. The term 'for himself' is meant to be understood as to be owned completely by himself. As such, only a single person at most can actually achieve this obligation upon the completion of the writing. (Whether a partnership in a sefer torah will suffice is a matter of dispute, and is not the generally accepted view)

  • Rosh Halachos Ketanos - Hilchos Sefer Torah - The mitzvah can only be accomplished by writing/purchasing a sefer torah from which one will be studying. Nowadays when it is not the custom to study directly from the Torah, the appropriate way to achieve this obligation is to purchase books of Torah (chumash, mishna, talmud, and the like) from which one will study.

As most people do not have the opportunity to actually write or commission the writing of an entire kosher sefer torah, many acharonim write that they can rely on the opinion of the Rosh. However, it is preferable to fulfill both understandings if it is within one's means.

You may note that there is no view that holds that writing a single letter (or even an entire sefer torah), will achieve the mitzvah without ownership of the sefer torah itself. Why then do people want to participate in the writing?

The answer is provided in the Rambam mentioned above:

He who corrects a scroll, even a single letter of it, is regarded as if he had written it completely.

One who participates in the Mitzvah of writing even one letter of the sefer torah, as an agent of the owner, it is as if he wrote it in its entirety. As such, each writer will receive reward for assisting his fellow Jew as an agent in achieving the Mitzvah.

5 comments

"One who participates in the Mitzvah of writing even one letter of the sefer torah, as an agent of the owner, it is as if he wrote it in its entirety." I don't think that's an accurate understanding of the Rambam at all. Most understand that line to be referring to fixing an Torah with a mistake that for example you inherited. I don't know who thinks it means the agent gets credit. AA​ 6 days ago

"there is no view that holds that writing a single letter (or even an entire sefer torah), will achieve the mitzvah without ownership of the sefer torah itself." This is not true, though they are in the extreme minority. AA​ 6 days ago

@A A, to your first point, I've heard this on various occasions - here you can find this idea attributed to R' Dovid Cohen (section titled 'The Prevalent Custom') PinnyM 6 days ago

And to your second point, can you produce a minority source that says that writing alone, without any partnership rights, counts toward this Mitzvah? The closest I have found that says this works only talks about purchasing a partnership toward a letter or word, which is not the same thing as simply writing a letter or word. PinnyM 6 days ago

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